There is too much ugliness in a short time
Rupa (not real name) is a 14-year-old child who likes lining her eyes with coal pencils and playing dress up. She is a transgender – locally known as hijra – deprived of access to education, healthcare, and the right to live a somewhat decent life in society.
Rupa used to live with a transgender community in Mirpur, Dhaka. She was born in Habiganj, Sylhet where she used to live with her family before. But at the tender age of seven, she had to leave it all behind because she did not fit in.
Named Karim (not real name) by her parents, Rupa’s father bought her typical male clothes when she was younger. Her family introduced her as their son, but she identified as a girl and liked wearing her sister’s clothes. Her orientation and behaviour incited anger within her family; she was beaten and ridiculed and eventually forced to leave home.
“I never went to school, even though all my siblings did. My father did not admit me to school; he said I brought shame to the family and because of me he lost his honour in society,” Rupa told the Dhaka Tribune.
“My family used to call me abnormal. My step-brother hit me regularly to ‘straighten’ me up. They did not even try to understand me,” the teenager said.
Deprived of basic needs
When Rupa fell ill, her family never took her to the hospital.
“My father used to tell me that I am abnormal. He used to say abnormal people do not need any treatment; he said it would be better if I died. My mother would bring me medicine from a dispensary. But I was never taken to any doctors for healthcare,” she told this reporter.
The transgender child laments about never being treated the same as her siblings because she is different.
“My mother took care of my siblings, fed them big pieces of fish and meat, but she always neglected me.”
Rupa’s is not an isolated case. Most transgender children of Bangladesh grow up in a state of insecurity and abuse.
In her short life, Rupa has already seen much of the ugly side of life.
After she left home, a lot of people took advantage of her. Some offered to marry her; others wanted sexual relationships and offered to pay her. She was coerced into having sex on several occasions.
“I was very young when some people wanted to employ me as a sex worker. Sometimes people would offer me Tk500-1,000 for a night. They used to touch me inappropriately,” she said.
“I have a boyfriend. I had four other boyfriends before this, but they all left after a few months. Some of them got involved with me because they wanted physical relationships. But their families would never accept me as I am a transgender.”
When asked why she sexually involved herself with her previous boyfriends, she said she was lonely and wanted company; if she did not allow sexual relationships, they would not stay with her. Men took advantage of her because she was an outcast and would not be able to speak out against their wrongdoings.
Before Rupa became a part of the transgender community in Mirpur, she knew nothing about the risks of unprotected sex. The community educated her on the matter. She now understands how AIDS spreads and how to better shield herself against such diseases.
However, she still does not know if she has already contracted an STD. No hospitals or doctors want to provide services to transgender people.
“The doctors avoid us. They do not want to help us,” Rupa said.
Rekha, who is Rupa’s “guru,” said: “I took her in when she was seven because no one else was there to look after her. All of us face discrimination from an early age – Rupa is no different.
“When she got sick, I took her to a hospital where doctors refused to treat her. This has happened to us all.
“People think we are somehow bad. But why? We are human beings, just like them. We have the right to live safely and with dignity like everyone else.”
Rekha said because transgender people are not accepted in society, they cannot get jobs like everyone else. This is why they have to resort to begging and asking for money from local shops and businesses.
Communities like this largely make their living by doing sex work or extorting money from other people. Currently, there is no widespread system that can support them. But Rupa does not want to spend her life begging for money.
Rupa left the transgender community in Mirpur some time ago, and is currently back in her hometown Habiganj. She now works with a group of transgender people in that area who provide catering service for wedding ceremonies.
Transgender people in Bangladesh
There is a lack of accurate data on the transgender people in the country. According to the Department of Social Services, there are about 10,000 transgender people across the country. However, there is no data on transgender children.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services, around 0.7% of the transgender population has HIV-prevalence, while less than 0.1% are HIV-positive, as of 2015.
The ICDDRB conducted a research on transgender people in Dhaka in 2015. During the research, they spoke with 570 transgender people, of whom 67.2% were found to be involved in sex trade.
Most transgender children are forced to leave home at a very young age, and then they suffer all forms of abuse, said Dr Sharful Islam Khan, head of the HIV and AID program in the ICDDRB’s Infectious Diseases Division.
“The discrimination and abuse that transgender children suffer at a young age leave an impression that affects their adult life too,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “Most of these people are at high risk of contracting HIV as they are frequently abused sexually.
“Initiatives must be taken by everyone – the government, the NGOs, the healthcare services, and the society in general – to ensure the transgender community are treated equally and have access to a decent life,” he added.
The names of the transgender people have been changed to protect their privacy